A Chapter by Peter Rogerson

Josiah Pyke might well learn there's more in the adult world than prayer books and sermons.


Everyone in Goosebury knew that Mavis Jones was a tartar so nobody was surprised when she turned like a mad woman onto her nineteen year-old daughter and publicly disowned her. And because everyone knew that the Reverend Simeon Crow was a soft touch with a sympathetic eye for all young women in trouble, nobody was surprised when he offered that daughter a roof over her head in a vicarage which he always maintained was much too big for a single bachelor rattling around in it.

To Mavis that was confirmation of the evil that coursed in the blood through her daughter’s body, probably inherited from her late husband who’d been a chaos of contradictions when he’d been alive, a confirmation that was enhanced by the presence in the vicarage of a second dog collar, the Reverend Josiah Pyke who was, if condemnation were needed, the son of the well known religious sadist working his evil in Henstooth’s only church. Henstooth was, after all, not so many miles from Goosebury, and fame and notoriety each easily spread from village to village when there’s little else to do other than spread it.

The disgrace of the flying bikini top had been in the summer, during a garden party, and now it was winter and Ophelia Jones was still resident at the vicarage where she was a welcome guest if onoy because the vicar didn’t have to dig into parish funds to pay for her keep.

She could pay her own way all right. She wasn’t without means, having a clerical post in a solicitor’s office in Brumpton, the nearest town of any size. That didn’t mean she had any specific legal know-how of her own, of course, but clerical souls can’t help but pick things up as they type out important documents, and it must be remembered that the events described thus far predate such delights as word processing and computerisation.

There were two reasons why Ophelia couldn’t return to the family home. The first was the adamant refusal of her mother to acknowledge her existence and the second was an attachment she felt she had to the Reverend Josiah Pyke, young and available curate of the parish. Ever since the disastrous beauty pageant she’d felt that attachment and nourished it in her lonely dreams at night.

Josiah, though, didn’t realise this. When she was near him she was either very quiet, some might call it shy, or she was prone to dropping little suggestions that would have been meaningless had they not had personal implications, but those implications were, unfortunately, solely in Ophelia’s head. And they sometimes bordered on the highly suggestive, like reverend, I think I’ve got a cold coming on, and when I was poorly my mother used to rub ointment into my chest, but there’s nobody here who can do that for me…

For the moment she was the only young woman staying at the vicarage. Two of the previous girls had found themselves men of their own, one having married hers whilst the other had turned out to be undecided about marriage but perfectly sure of co-habitation. The third left in a huff when it transpired that she had to do the housework previously done by all three as well as provide much more regular nocturnal comfort to the Reverend Simeon Crow when she sometimes felt the need for a night on her own.

Ophelia’s employment in a solicitor’s office was a warning to Simeon that she might have enough legal contacts to make life difficult for him if she passed on news of anything inappropriate for a clergyman, and he regretfully made no demands of her. Of the young women who had, from time to time, lived at the vicarage, she was the only genuine lodger.

It’s best not to,” Simeon murmured to Josiah on the odd occasion.

What is?” asked his curate.

Expect too much of poor dear Ophelia. Best not to, with her, you know, contacts.”

Josiah was at a loss when it came to understanding obtuse comments like these and merely nodded his head as if he did understand. But he didn’t. His was still the world in which his first love lingered on the edge of his memory. It was years since he had seen or heard anything of Penny, but there was still a fragile strand of hope somewhere in the complexity that was his head. He might bump into her, the thought ran. She might become a contestant in another beauty pageant. She might be standing behind him in the supermarket queue (a possibility that, once considered, sent him on multiple trips to the out-of-town supermarket where it made perfect sense for him to bump into Penny by delightful accident, though he never did.)

I’m off to the Bull and Crow for a jar,” the vicar said to his curate, “do you fancy a jar with me?”

Josiah didn’t. His drinking years, if there were to be any, lay ahead of him, and the last thing he wanted was the smoky atmosphere of a public house bar. He was too refined for that.

Another time,” he suggested, hoping that another time might never come.

Well, while I’m gone … a word to the wise … be careful what you say to Ophelia.”

I don’t understand...”

Just be careful, that’s all. She’s … sensitive.”

The truth was that Simeon knew considerably more about the way a woman’s heart might beat than did his younger curate, and he’d often seen an expression on their lodger’s face and particularly in her eyes when Josiah was around, an expression that he rightfully interpreted as being a reasonably close relative to lust.

I’m always careful,” replied Josiah, a tad irritably, because, in his ignorance, he was.

And that was that. Simeon adjusted his clerical collar, put on a coat (it being winter and the weather getting chilly) and went out.

Which left Josiah and a television in the sitting room of the vicarage. The television was on, a programme concerning cowboys being taught morality and gentility by an Indian squaw, and it was playing unobserved by him as he leaned back, closed his eyes in order to rest them, and sighed.

It is probably because he sighed as Ophelia quietly entered the room that he didn’t realise that he wasn’t alone. His eyes were still closed and a gunfight was spraying the room with the sounds of ricocheting bullets as she sat down.

Had he opened his eyes he would have noticed the expression on her face because it was absorbing him in much the same way as a sheet of blotting paper might absorb the inky writing on a love-letter.

The television programme came to a climax and Josiah, disturbed by excessive gunfire mixed with the weeping of newly-created widows, opened his eyes to see hers.

There was no doubt about it, she had lovely eyes. Josiah had long considered him the sort of man who appreciates long and fragrant hair on the womenfolk he came into contact with, but in the case of Ophelia her eyes were magnificent.

They’re like windows through which we can see the purest soul, he thought.

It was very like him to think that sort of thing, to see the best in others, probably because in his boyhood he’d been exposed to the worst and didn’t want to even imagine any more of that.

You were sleeping,” said Ophelia, her gentle voice filling the room with an almost tangible calm.

I was resting my eyes,” he admitted, “I didn’t know you were here. You must think I’m really bad mannered.”

I thought you looked peaceful,” she said, and although the meaning of her words was totally innocent she somehow managed to insert something less than innocent into the way she spoke them.

I thought you looked as if you might be planning the best sermon ever preached,” she went on, and blushed when she added “meant specially for little me.”

I think I’m just tired,” he said. “Simeon’s gone to the pub and I thought I’d take this opportunity to recharge my batteries.”

Good idea,” she murmured, “are you ever going to get married?” she added as if the need to rest was closely related to a man’s marital state.

The question surprised him. He might have occasionally wondered whether Penny Longlane would turn up and glide back unobtrusively into his life with a gold ring on her finger, but that was all fantasy and he had enough sense to realise it.

I have no idea,” he replied, truthfully enough, for disregarding any shadow of Penny on his days, he hadn’t even contemplated the shadow of marriage.

You’d make someone a good husband,” she said.

I wouldn’t know about that!” he replied.

And then she hit him with the cruise missile of thought, the nuclear device that would explode in his mind as if he were an enemy target and she a victorious warrior.

I’m prepared to bet you’re really good in bed,” she said…

© Peter Rogerson 23.03.18

© 2018 Peter Rogerson

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Added on March 23, 2018
Last Updated on March 23, 2018
Tags: beauty pageant, winner, mother, banished, vicarage, solicitor's office, resting



Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 78 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..